Handel: Fernando, rè di Castiglia

COMPOSERS: Handel
LABELS: Virgin
ALBUM TITLE: Handel
WORKS: Fernando, rè di Castiglia
PERFORMER: Lawrence Zazzo, Veronica Cangemi, Marianne Pizzolato, Max Emmanuel Cencic, Filippo Adami, Antonio Abete, Neal Banerjee; Il Complesso Barocco/Alan Curtis
CATALOGUE NO: 365 4832
The background history to Handel’s

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Fernando, rè di Castiglia is both

interesting and puzzling. Handel

completed the score early in 1732

and it was performed a few days

later under its title Sosarme. But he

had begun to write the opera to an

entirely different libretto by Antonio

Salvi and, indeed had completed two

of its three Acts before abandoning

a setting in Portugal during the

Middle Ages for an adaptation of

one set in Sardis in Asia Minor in

the time of the Medes and Persians.

The only character common to

both texts is the bass, Altomaro, the

villain of the piece, for whom Handel

nevertheless wrote some of the most

beautiful music in the opera. While

the reason for these sudden changes

in Handel’s plans remains in doubt,

Winton Dean and others since have cited political considerations rather

than any necessity Handel might

have felt for structural adjustment.

Alan Curtis is a seasoned

Handelian who has contributed,

perhaps more than anyone now, to

the composer’s operas on disc. His

decision to breathe new life into a

known opera’s original incarnation

is much more than an academic

exercise and is especially rewarding

both in respect of the relationship

between words and music and in

the reinstatement of recitative,

accompanied and unaccompanied

which Handel omitted from

Sosarme. If the libretto is not of the

best then the same cannot be said

of Handel’s music which offers a

veritable banquet. Among the many

captivating numbers are Altomaro’s

‘Fra l’ombre gli orrori’ (Act I),

which Handel adapted from his

much earlier dramatic cantata, ‘Aci,

Galatea e Polifemo’, Elvida’s A major

‘Vola l’augello’ which concludes

Act II, the duet ‘Tu caro, caro sei’

for the lovers Elvida and Fernando,

and the unusually extended, richly

modulating finale of the opera which

follows. The cast of singers is always

effective though seldom, perhaps

outstanding and the instrumentalists

in all but one or two instances

unanimous and sympathetic. Curtis

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directs all with stylistic assurance. Nicholas Anderson